Topic-based Structured Writing: The Key to Component Content Management
Decades of research in methods for technical documentation point to topic-based structured writing using DITA as the key to component content management, because of its modularity, information typing, inheritance, specialization, minimalism, single-source, conditional processing, component publishing, task-orientation, content reuse, multiple output formats, multi-channel delivery, and translation-friendliness.

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What Is Darwin Information Typing Architecture?

  • Darwin because its topics can be specialized to inherit properties of basic topics.
  • Three basic Information Types are Concept, Task, and Reference Topics.
  • The Architecture is an XML standard, with Schemas and DTDs (document type definitions) maintained by OASIS.
  • DITA Topics can include other topics and sub-topics for flexible content reuse.
  • Topics have strong metadata for retrieval and conditional processing.
  • DITA Maps assemble topics in hierarchies for publishing various document types.
  • Map assembly can depend on audience type and many other properties.
  • DITA is an end-to-end architecture, with rules for publishing to web (XHTML), Help, print (PDF), and other formats.
  • The DITA Open Toolkit is an open-source reference implementation of an end-to-end component publishing system.

Component Publishing

With DITA, all your topics - and even subtopics properly identified with content reference IDs - become components that can be assembled for publishing in multiple documents. For each document variation, you prepare a DITA Map, which is a hierarchical sequence of the components (a sort of table of contents) as you want them arranged in the document.

Each component can be included conditionally depending on attribute values like audience, computer platform, or other properties.

Because the DITA Open Toolkit is free and open source, technical writers can demonstrate the ability to create topic-based documents and arrange topics for publication on the web or in print for a very small investment.

Getting Started with Topic-based Structured Writing

Installing the DITA Open Toolkit is not the first thing a tech writer should have to do to learn about DITA.

DITA Users is a member organization that provides the browser-based DITA Storm editor for you to author structured content in your own workspace folder. You don't have to install anything or know XML to begin topic-based structured writing. DITA Users can help you develop skills you can transfer to the top DITA XML Editors and XML Content Management Systems.

They offer a free online demo of authoring and building DITA files and you can download the resulting deliverables to keep your work.

If you join DITA Users, you can manage multiple projects in your personal workspace folder. Each project includes source files, build files, and output files. You process your files to HTML, PDF, Help, and other publishing formats with the DITA Open Toolkit on their server. Develop your DITA skills and download the results, or publish links to your work on the DITA Users website.

Once you have mastered the basics, you can install the DITA Open Toolkit in your own organization and acquire a DITA XML editor. Some editors come with the DITA Open Toolkit integrated.


Contributors to this page: Bill Albing and bobdoyle .
Page last modified on Monday, October 08, 2007 07:32:52 pm EDT by Bill Albing.

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